From the Introduction to The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Its People, Wildlife Resources, and Oil and Gas Potential, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, June, 1995.


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR] covers about 19 million acres of tundra, rolling hills, and broad braided streams in a remote part of northeastern Alaska. The Porcupine Caribou Herd calves and feeds in ANWR during the summer months before migra ting into the foothills of the Brooks Range or into Canada to spend the winter months. During the summer, the Refuge hosts thousands of migratory birds, many of which migrate from Japan, the former Soviet Union, and other countries in the Western Hemisph ere.

This region is also home to descendents of once-nomadic Inupiat Eskimos whose economy now is a delicate balance between traditional subsistence pursuits and employment in a cash-oriented setting. Local peoples use cash to enhance their subsistence lifesty le, creating a hybrid economy unlike any outside of Alaska.

In addition to impressive fish and wildlife resources, the ANWR Coastal Plain offers a very high potential for oil and gas deposits. Geologists believe that the Coastal Plain is more likely to contain significant amounts of oil than any other onshore regi on in the United States. At this time, however, no definitive evaluation has been made of these resources. A single exploratory well has been drilled within the boundaries of ANWR [drilled during 1985-86 on Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation and Arctic Slope Re gional Corporation lands adjacent to the ANWR Coastal Plain]. Information obtained from this single well is insufficient to evaluate the region 's oil and gas potential. Current law does not permit exploratory drilling in the ANWR Coastal Plain or product ion on the Refuge. However, Congress will soon reconsider the issue in one of the most important land use decisions in U.S. history.

Congress recognized both renewable and nonrenewable resources in ANWR when it passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA). In dealing with ANWR, Section 1002 of the Act specified that about 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain (about 8 percent of the 19 million-acre Refuge) should be subject to a thorough resource evaluation. About half the Refuge or approximately 8 million acres was set aside by ANILCA as wilderness and is not subject to the resource evaluation.

Recognizing the high potential for oil and gas deposits along with important fish and wildlife resources, Congress required a comprehensive and continuing inventory and assessment of the biologic resources of the Coastal Plain and an analysis of the pote ntial impacts of oil and gas exploration, development and production. ANILCA also allowed limited geologic and geophysical surveys to provide a better understanding of ANWR's oil and gas potential. Under the terms of the Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Se rvice was given the mandate to conduct the assessment; a final report on the findings was submitted to Congress in April 1987.

While ANILCA required special evalutions in the ANWR Coastal Plain before oil and gas leasing could be carried out, it is important to note that similar activities have been permitted in other refuges as a matter of course. Fish and Wildlife Service refug e management regulations allow for oil and gas extraction if it is considered to be in the national interest and is compatable with the purpose for which a refuge was established. One example of oil and gas development within a refuge is the Swanson River field within the Kenai National Moose Range) where oil has been produced since the 1960s without significant adverse environmental effects.

The decision to be made about opening the ANWR Coastal Plain to exploratory drilling and potential petroleum development will be controversial. The purpose of this booklet is to provide an overview of the environment of ANWR , its history, and its petroleum potential.